BOSTON — You may find this hard to believe, but there was a time when teenage sex was the exception, not the rule.
Of course, today, teen sex proudly stands fists on hips, smack in the middle of the public consciousness. In soap operas, it's a plot line. On MTV it's a "Real World," real life, bisexual story line. And in magazines it's a talking point and a selling point.
The August cover of YM teases, "Passion Pointers from Crazy-in-Love Couples." For a seamless segue from prom to promiscuity, there's CosmoGIRL! - a new magazine for those too young for the worldly ways of Cosmopolitan. And Jane magazine's latest is the "Sex-Obsessed" issue.
On the more masculine side, there's RAW, a magazine about professional wrestling that hypes sex stereotypes and simulated sex acts glorified in the ring.
Just about every form of printed and spoken word, it seems, is pushing the "sex sells" envelope at the expense of our young people.
That's bad enough; what's worse is the way parents, who are supposed to look out for the best interest of their children, are instead giving in to the trend by allowing kids to go along with it.
When a sexually vulgar teen movie like "American Pie" causes stampedes at the box office, you have to wonder, "Maybe this is what the public wants."
Well, it may be what the public wants - but is it what the public needs?
It's time for parents to face and assess the impact of this sexually charged cultural environment, by asking themselves if anything good has come out of it.
If statistics don't lie, the answer would have to be, "no."
Every year in the United States, 3 million teenagers get a sexually transmitted disease. Even with easy access to birth control, 1 million teenage girls became pregnant last year.
Even if contraception was 100 percent effective and teens used it 100 percent of the time, and even if you could take away the obvious physical consequences of sex, as the old song goes, "How can you mend a broken heart?"
A 14-year-old girl in the August issue of Jump magazine reflects on her decision to have sex. "I got very depressed. I was not ready on any level and got caught up in keeping my boyfriend happy."
She then asks other teenage girls, "How are you going to feel after the breakup (which will happen)? How many more guys will you give your body to? Those guys are gone from your life ... but you will always be with your body, your mind, and your heart."
Boys can also suffer long-term emotional consequences from sex. A grown man who chose to abort his child before he was married still carries the scars.
"The regret, frustration, anger and loss are intense," he told a reporter recently. "As you progress through life ... the loss of the child ... does not go away."
Realizations like those are why parents must tell teenagers that sex is rarely as glamorous and fallout-free as the sexual encounters shown on TV or in movies, and it's not a shortcut to intimacy or being loved.
We need to teach teens about all of the risks associated with sex.
When it comes to sex, teenagers have the idealism of youth, as should be expected. So it's up to responsible adults to educate and protect them from the culture's dangerous, flippant take on adolescent sex.
Let's put aside personal crusades, political agendas, and the possibility of fast money, and truly look out for the best interest of our children.
The Spanish philosopher Jos Ortega y Gasset said, "Order is not a pressure which is imposed on society from without, but an equilibrium which is set up from within."
We must regain order within the sexual realm.
If we don't, then aside from the misery measured in statistics, we'll have to deal with the adolescent casualties of broken hearts, broken spirits, and yes, broken bodies.
We'll also have to be prepared to hear more world-weary 14-year-olds say of their first sexual encounter, "It was the saddest moment of my life."
*Nancy White is director of communications for Family First, an independent, nonprofit research and communications organization in Tampa, Fla.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society